Panama voters to elect new president in crowded field of contenders

Panamanians are heading to the polls for a general election to choose the nation’s next president and vote for hundreds of lawmakers and officials.

Following weeks of campaign events, more than three million voters will decide who among eight candidates is best placed to fix Panama’s pressing economic problems, tackle corruption and restore the country’s reputation as an investment haven.

No single party is forecast to win control of the legislature, where 885 seats are up for grabs.

Polls are open for eight hours from 7am (12:00 GMT) for those eligible to vote.

Jose Raul Mulino, a former minister who remained on the ticket after his running mate, popular ex-President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-14), was barred from running due to a money laundering conviction, is leading in opinion polls.

Martinelli has dominated much of the race, campaigning for his former running mate from inside the Nicaraguan embassy, where he took refuge on February 8 after receiving political asylum.

Mulino has coasted on his connection to the ex-president, rarely seen without his blue “Martinelli Mulino 2024” cap and promising to help Martinelli if elected. He has also promised a return to the vibrant economy seen under Martinelli.

Romulo Roux, in his second bid to win the presidency, and former President Martin Torrijos have alternated between second and third place. Trailing closely behind is Ricardo Lombana, who also ran in the past election, and current Vice President Jose Gabriel Carrizo.

Panama’s electoral rules do not require a run-off, making Sunday’s result final. Campaigns have said they will send volunteers to the polls to oversee voting and ensure a fair election.

The winner – who serves as head of state and prime minister of Panama – takes office on July 1.

<<Aljazeera>>